A Double Double-Image in a Dali?
By Paul Chimera
Dali Writer & Historian
One of the great things about Salvador Dali paintings, Dali prints, drawings and other works by the Spanish master of surrealism is that you can often see things in them that you didn’t see during earlier visits.
This happened to me just today, as I was contemplating part of a three-panel commission by Dali: his “Fantastic Landscape” – one of three excellent wall-mounted oil paintings he created for the New York City apartment of cosmetics queen Helena Rubinstein.
The large canvas features a central androgynous figure striking a dramatic pose on a beach. The theme continues in the background with mythical figures cavorting just off-shore. Just behind the principal figure is part of a stone column, upon which “Gala S. Dali” is chiseled.
The main figure has both male and female qualities, as its form from the waist up emerges from billowy clouds and a riot of sea birds.
As was Dali’s penchant throughout his career, “Fantastic Landscape” features a double-image, as six birds – from top to bottom – form the figure’s eyebrows, nose, lips and chin. In general, despite more masculine arms, there’s enough about the figure’s features to lean us toward the conclusion she’s female. Or at least that’s my view.
But wait! Why didn’t I notice this before? Look just to the right of the main face of birds. There appears to be a second face. This time, a decidedly male face, where two birds constitute his eyes, while a third bird is positioned to suggest a mustache just below his nose! The tail of the same bird serves to represent a tiny touch of beard.
Does this charming Dali work include not one but two hidden faces? I think it does, but viewers must decide for themselves. And therein lies one of the many reasons why the art of Salvador Dali is so fascinating and, yes, so fun. Not always, of course, but often.
Dali liked to engage us. He loved humor. He loved the participatory nature of modern art – his brand of modern art, that is. Art that made us wonder, made us smile, made us wince, made us sit up and take notice.
Of course, Dali’s double-imagery was often ultimately left up to us to decide if it was intended or random. The present case is a great example, because it’s long been a tradition for people to gaze upon the clouds and see – or think we see – all manner of objects, animate and inanimate. The triumph of the imagination is a wonderful thing.
When I was publicity director of the Dali Museum in Ohio (before it moved to Florida), I loved hearing Eleanor Morse – co-benefactor of the museum’s collection – explain that Dali would find it amusing when people told him they said they saw this or that in his surrealist compositions. “You eez having one very good idea,” Dali would reply, “but Dali nevair theenk of it!!”